Mike Szczesny, Owner & VP of EDCO Awards & Specialties

Influencer marketing in the pharmaceutical industry is a complex issue with reasonable arguments on multiple sides. On the one hand, leveraging individual patients’ personal experiences and narratives may help bring an authentic voice to product messaging. This could increase trust and resonance for some audiences skeptical of more traditional promotional content. However, legitimate concerns about transparency and potential conflicts of interest exist if affiliate relationships or sponsored content are not disclosed. Thoughtful regulations and best practices around disclosure and ethical standards could help address these concerns while allowing patients to share their genuine perspectives. Overall, good faith stakeholders on multiple sides of this issue are working to balance the need for trustworthy information with innovative marketing approaches.

One instance that won’t leave our minds in a hurry is the Instagram post by then-expectant celebrity influencer Kim Kardashian, outlining the benefits of Diclegis, a “morning sickness” drug, to her millions of followers on Instagram. She can be quoted saying, “It’s been studied, and there’s no increased risk to the baby,” accompanied by a smiling selfie of her holding the pill bottle to her face. “I’m so excited and happy with the results.” The Food and Drug Administration flagged the post for omitting the drug’s long list of risks and mandated Kardashian to take the post down. They also issued the drug maker a warning letter, but before all of these, the brand already had over ten thousand mentions on social media. This controversial form of marketing, where companies can target consumers directly rather than through physicians, is only legal in the US and New Zealand. 

Benefits of Pharma Influencing

Influencer marketing has numerous benefits in pharma. This marketing method can help businesses reach potential customers and create positive associations with a brand. Patients often know more about their lived experience than their doctors, and sharing their first-hand experience can help others discover treatments they’re unaware of. Social media is interactive, providing an avenue for an entire community to weigh in on the influencer’s experience either by supporting or sharing their negative experiences with a drug. 

The challenges of pharma influencing also present avenues for influencers to bridge the communication gap between brands and consumers. Influencers can establish trust, connect with diverse audiences, and shape perceptions around healthcare solutions. By disseminating accurate information and sharing personal experiences, influencers help demystify pharmaceutical products, fostering a better-informed and more receptive audience. Their role extends beyond simple promotion—influencing public opinions, driving awareness, and ultimately facilitating a positive impact on public health.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for Pharma Influencer Marketing

Determining the return on investment (ROI) and assessing a campaign’s efficacy requires measuring digital marketing initiatives. When assessing the effectiveness of influencer marketing, it’s critical to keep an eye on a few key KPIs. Website visits, brand mentions, reach and engagement, lead generation, and conversions are a few. By monitoring these indicators, businesses can learn more about their campaigns and how to improve their strategy.

The challenges and considerations for pharmaceutical influencer marketing

The challenges of pharma influencer marketing include choosing the right influencers, managing risks, and ensuring compliance with ethical guidelines; some specific challenges are:

Regulatory Compliance

The FDA regulates some aspects of pharma marketing. Influencers operating in this space must navigate many rules to ensure their content adheres to legal standards, maintains accuracy, and prioritizes consumer safety. The regulatory framework aims to safeguard public health by preventing misleading information, minimizing conflicts of interest, and upholding ethical standards in promoting pharmaceutical products, underscoring the importance of aligning influencer campaigns with established legal and ethical guidelines. According to the FDA’s website, here are some regulations:

  • Ads must be truthful.
  • Must accurately communicate both the benefits and risks of medications.
  • Provide relevant information about the product’s approved use.
  • Provide the product’s generic name and a summary of every risk described in the product’s labeling.

Ethical considerations

There are ethical considerations about influencer marketing in pharma because drugs can have long-lasting effects on people and can be a line between staying alive and dying. Many people have concerns about blurring the lines between ads and opinions, which could potentially deceive patients in influencer marketing. When you see an ad, you recognize it as such, but user-generated content on Instagram, TikTok, etc., can often seem like unbiased opinions. There are often reports of social media influencers omitting crucial information, such as the availability of a cheaper generic option, risks, or unintentionally disseminating misinformation due to a lack of scientific expertise.

Pharma influencer marketing is not perfect, but it has numerous benefits. The challenges and considerations, such as stringent regulatory frameworks, ethical responsibilities, and precision in messaging, underscore the need for influencers to operate with a heightened awareness of their impact on public health. By acknowledging these challenges and adapting strategies accordingly, influencers can play a pivotal role in promoting pharmaceutical products responsibly and transparently. 

About Mike Szczesny 
Mike Szczesny is the owner and vice president of EDCO Awards & Specialties, a dedicated supplier of employee recognition products, branded merchandise, and athletic and custom awards. Szczesny takes pride in EDCO’s ability to help companies go the extra mile in expressing gratitude and appreciation to their employees. He resides in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.